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Tri Talk Tuesday: Gaining Confidence with Open Water Swimming

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It’s Tuesday and I’m back for  another Tri Talk Tuesday, linking up with CourtneyMiranda, and Cynthia! Today’s topic is: open water swimming.

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Here’s the thing, I used to be really scared of the open water swim in Triathlon, like really scared.  I was so scared to the point where I would have anxiety attacks in the water, my heart would race and I would literally be grasping for air. I would train my BUTT off and would get in the water during a race and all of the practice and training would go out the window!  So aggravating! My swim time was what was separating me from a top place age group finish, even more of a reason to focus on fixing that confidence issue. You could fine me doing breast stroke or floating on my back to relax in the beginning of a race.  It would take me several minutes to calm down before actually getting into a freestyle groove.

Coming out of the water at Tri Fest Half Ironman 2013

Fast forward to now, and I am more confident than ever in the water.  I will honestly say, it takes years of practice and racing to get confident in an open water swim during a triathlon.  Granted, for some people it might take less time than it took me, but for most, I know this is a struggle. I was determined to get confident in the water and to decrease my swim times.  I have gone from finishing in the middle of the pack (or further back) during the swim, to finishing at the top of the pack in my age group… and I was never a competitive swimmer! I still have a lot to work on, like my technique, but there are a lot of things that have helped me gain confidence in the water.  Hopefully my tips can help you to gain confidence in the water!

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How to gain confidence in the open water:

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1. Practice, practice practice!  I can’t say this enough.  You need to practice in the open water in order to RACE in the open water.  Getting in the open water just once before a race is not enough.  I made this mistake during my very first triathlon, hence the panic attack.

2. Swim with a buddy who is comfortable in the open water.  When I first ventured into triathlons, I found a few girls to swim with and it made all the difference.  One of the girls was a college swimmer and triathlete, it gave me a sense of comfort swimming with her.  She was also faster than me and it gave me something to work towards. I always like to have someone next to me when I swim.  This also prepares you for race day when you have a ton of people all around you.

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3. Find a song with a good beat, and get it stuck in your head. This is my strategy for when I am scared swimming while training or especially during racing. I have mentioned this before on the blog, but it truly works wonders.  When you repeat song lyrics (my song of choice is ‘Roar’ by Katy Perry) it helps you relax and get into a rhythm… try it for yourself!

4. Realize that you are scaring any living thing in the water that might be near you.  I only practice in a pond, so I cannot speak for the ocean, but I know that nothing can kill me where I swim and I try to remind myself of this.  I also try not to think about the bad things that could happen, like drowning, because this totally freaks me out.  Whenever I get worried about seeing fish, I try to remind myself that they are more scared of me, than I am of them… THIS does not apply to sharks obviously.  But that’s why I don’t do ocean swims…

5. Warm up before a race, this is critical! Warming up in the water before a race is not only critical for warming up your muscles, but also your MIND.  All open water is different, whether is be a lake, pond or ocean.  Even if you practice in a lake all the time, chances are the lake at your race will seem a lot different.  There could be more waves, less visibility, etc… don’t wait until the gun goes off to see what it’s like.  I recommend getting in the water AT LEAST 10 minutes before race start.  Also, practice going around a buoy and getting a feel for the course.  Another suggestion is to familiarize yourself with the swim course before arriving on race morning i.e. reading the Athlete Guide and knowing what direction the course goes and what the turns look like… highly recommended!

6. Quit over thinking it. Easier said than done, but once you relax in the water, you will be much better off.  It has taken me years not to ‘over think’ the open water swim. I over think everything in my life, so you can only imagine what I used to be like in the open water.  Just give yourself the proper amount of time to train, and you shouldn’t have to over think:)

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What scares you the most about open water swimming?  How do you overcome your fears?

 

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20 Comments

  • Reply Bryanna June 24, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Great tips!! I love open water swimming over the pool but I grew up in water. Not much of an ocean fan but love lakes. It’s definitely a different experience in open water than the pool so I couldn’t agree more to get out in the open water before race day

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:34 pm

      I’m glad you found this useful! I also LOVE lakes… not really an ocean girl:)

  • Reply Courtney @The TriGirl Chronicles June 24, 2014 at 9:53 pm

    Quit over thinking it, that’s what I need to do! So guilty of that. Great tips!

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:35 pm

      yes, no need to over think it.. just do it… sounds easier said than done I know:)

  • Reply Kristen @ Glitter and Dust June 24, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    I didn’t realize that you started off as a “middle of the pack” swimmer! This gives me hope to improve. What do you feel has been most helpful in improving your speed? Do you do any upper body strength training or is it more about getting in to the pool and putting in the time?

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:38 pm

      I know, right?! You are probably surprised… I used to be a lot slower than I am now. As far as improving on speed, joining a Masters Swim team was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I have been going for 4+ years now, swimming in a lane with people who are faster than me.. forces me to push myself and get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Currently, I have been working a lot on technique which has improved speed! I use the TRX for upper body strengthening a few days/week. Yes, it is about pool time, however, if you are putting in a TON of time but you aren’t working on technique you will not get faster… hope that makes sense!

  • Reply Jocelyn Bergeron June 25, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I came face to face with a small mouth bass on my first ever open water swim – I’m sure I scared the crud out of the poor little guy- but I had a pretty serious panic attack and since then I do all of my open water training swims with my eyes closed. I know I’m a total goober for doing this- but it helps with my anxiety. My goal for the summer is to do two laps at Walden with my eyes open.

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Oh my gosh that is scary!! I hope that wasn’t at Walden Pond, lol. You aren’t a goober for swimming with your eyes closed… I used to do it too. Hope to see you at Walden sometime!

  • Reply Megan @ Meg Go Run June 25, 2014 at 2:40 pm

    I am so scared of snakes and other creatures… I really don’t know if I would ever swim anywhere accept kick around in the waves at a crowded beach. As a kid I would go out to where I couldn’t touch but now that just freaks me out.

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:40 pm

      Eeek snakes and eels totalllly creep me out! I try not to think about it. The ocean freaks me out because it’s SO massive, who knows what’s in there.. although I guess the same is true for big lakes:)

  • Reply Miranda @ Cupcake Triathlete June 25, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    Yes! You are way bigger and splashier than anything else in a pond. Also true of sharks… most are small and not going to bother you!

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      Exactly, even sharks!

  • Reply Kecia June 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Excellent post Kristin!! I would add one more thing that can help overcome swimming discomfort. We will get a group of us together and go to the pool…yes, the pool. Putting about 6-8 people in one lane reproduces what it will feel like to have others around you while you are swimming. We also throw a few big exercise balls into our lane that we have to maneuver around. The key is to make sure the lifeguards on duty know what you are doing before you start 😉

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:41 pm

      Thanks Kecia! What a great idea for practicing open water swimming/contact… love it! You REALLY need to get used to having other people around you… and bumping into you, that’s the scariest part (I think).

      • Reply Kecia June 30, 2014 at 8:28 pm

        I completely agree Kristin!! Having lots of people around you when your face is in the water and you can’t see them definitely takes some getting use to 🙂

  • Reply Nicole June 26, 2014 at 4:01 am

    Very good tips – so many people tell me the reason they won’t ever do a triathlon is the swim and it’s a shame! You are living proof the fears can be conquered!

    • Reply Kristin June 26, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Thank you! I have heard that so many times myself… they are really missing out!

  • Reply erin June 27, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Great tips, Kristin! I used to be terrified of open water, too (and it still makes me a bit nervous, but nothing like it used to)… so much so that I sidestroked an entire sprint swim once! I found that having a mantra helps immensely (I repeated the world beluga during IM Canada last year… ha!); it keeps me present and my mind from wandering into crazy territory. An in-water warm-up, though, is probably the most calming thing for me! It was actually really cool to be in the water at the start of Canada, soaking up the beautiful lake and the excitement of the day. I would add, if you can swim the actual course (or part of it) before race day, do it! Happy swimming 🙂

  • Reply Leslie @ Triathlete Treats June 28, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Awesome tips! I have always loved the water. Lakes, ocean, rivers. So I think when I started “swimming” in tris it was no big deal.
    I think practicing is the biggest thing you can do to get over it. People definitely over think it. Just get in and swim! That is why you practice!
    Another tip is really getting good at “sighting” that can help you be more comfortable in the water too!

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